Japan’s official vocabulary is increasing by 10 per cent to reflect the effects of modern technology. But the reason for the change is how people read, not the words themselves.
Unlike the western alphabet, Japan has three systems for printed words. Hiragana is the closest thing to an alphabet, consisting of 46 characters which each represent a sound and can thus be combined to make any word. Katakana is a set of alternative symbols (each corresponding to a Katakan symbol for the same sound) used mainly for words which originate in a language other than Japanese.
The third system, Kanji, consists of tens of thousands of characters which each refer to a particular word. They derive from pictures of the same concept. Learning the meaning of each character is a task that few if any would complete in a lifetime.
Because of this problem, the Japanese government uses a list known as J?y? kanji, consisting of 1,945 of the most commonly used terms. It’s the closest thing to an official collection of Kanji. While learning all these characters isn’t exactly a breeze either, it’s at least a starting point and means schools can all concentrate on teaching the same set of characters.
It’s now been announced that the list will soon rise to 2,136 characters, the biggest rise since the J?y? list came into force. Surprisingly additions were not mainly chosen for being newly-coined words, or those which have increased in popularity, as would happen with most dictionaries.
Instead the words are those which are frequently used but have not previously appeared in the list as they are relatively tricky to write by hand. That’s become less important now that more written communication is carried out electronically. That makes it easier to use the word in print, and thus more important that readers recognize the symbol.
And in case you’re wondering, the katakana in our image (taken from a t-shirt sold on Zazzle.com) is for the term Otaku, ” a Japanese term used to refer to people with obsessive interests, particularly anime, manga, and video games.”